Planners in Cheboygan County are scheduled to make a decision on a rezoning request for a project that has polarized the small village.
Proponents of the the motocross track slated for Indian River say it will bring money, jobs and visitors to the quiet town that has seen its economy struggle in recent years.
A group that has organized against the track believes it will bring noise, traffic and a cloud of dust that could forever change the character of a place that many retirees and summer residents chose as a home because of its peace and quiet.
There will be a hearing about the conditional zoning request for the Griswold Mountain property Jan. 8 before the county planning commission.
LOCAL KID DONE GOOD
Mark Hall, an Indian River kid who became the creator of Monster Energy drinks and president of Monster Beverage, said he hopes people don’t pass judgement on his proposal until the details are spelled out at the hearing.
“What I would like to say is, we finally have our hearing, there was a lot of work that’s gone into our proposal, and we’re hoping to present it on the eighth of January,” Hall said. “Come to the meeting on Jan. 8 with an open mind and listen to what’s proposed.”
He said he believes there is a lot of misinformation going on about the proposal, though he declined to say specifically what misinformation he has heard about.
Hall said even if a track is approved and constructed, that doesn’t guarantee that largescale races will come to Indian River.
“I don’t know that I could even get a race, and I’ve said that all along,” Hall said, noting it is a long way up I-75 from the nearest sizable population center. “We are geographically undesirable.”
That said, Hall hopes to have a track that can attract pro races.
But even if national races come to Indian River, Hall believes the concerns raised about the track have been exaggerated. He said more people live within a mile of a motocross track in his current hometown, Lake Elsinore, Calif., than the population of Cheboygan County.
‘IT’S MADE FOR THIS SITUATION’
Hall’s words don’t placate opponents. They say the proposed track is too close to too many houses and could shatter the serenity of the area; that it would bring more traffic than Straits Highway north of Indian River can bear; and that there are too many questions about the proposal to go ahead with approval.
A group has formed, Friends of Indian River for Smart Growth, which, in addition to organizing against the Griswold Mountain proposal, has proposed an alternate site for a racetrack they say would cause less commotion: a 1,000-acre section of state land southeast of Indian River that is adjacent to an industrial park and further away from residential areas.
Terrie Powers, a retired Department of Natural Resources conservation officer who lives about a half mile from the site of the proposed track on Griswold Mountain, researched the potential for a land acquisition and learned the state would be happy to part with that land for development.
She believes it would be perfect for a motocross track because, in addition to being further away from many houses, it could handle larger crowds and has better access to I-75.
The land also contains a sand or gravel pit, left over from when huge amounts of fill was needed to complete I-75. That area, known as the scramble pit, has been used by dirt bike and ORV riders for years.
“This alternative site -- it’s like it’s made for this situation,” Powers said. “I’m a retired conservation officer. I know this county like the back of my hand.”
‘EMOTIONAL TO ME’
Hall said he isn’t interested in a swap, however.
“I haven’t had it formally presented to me in any way,” he said. “I haven’t been to town to see the land.”
Nonetheless, he said he wants to build a motocross track on Griswold Mountain or nowhere else and already has several million dollars invested in the property.
“I like that land and I’m not aware of the land they’re proposing they swap for,” he said. Griswold Mountain “has a great view, and beyond that, it’s emotional to me. It’s where, when I was in high school, that’s where we used to hang out.”
Charles Willmott, who has helped lead the Friends of Indian River group, said he understands that there may not be much interest in the alternate site, but he hopes to change Hall’s mind.
“We have heard nothing from the other side directly in response to the idea,” Willmott said.
Willmott said the Friends group recruited the Little Traverse Conservancy to investigate the possibility of a land swap so that the motocross track could go on the alternate site and part of the Griswold Mountain property could become a public park. He said there could be tax benefits for Hall.
“We would like to see the alternative site pursued enthusiastically and we would work shoulder-to-shoulder to that end,” Willmott said illmott said he understands that Hall may already have made up his mind.
“I’ve never met the man, but from what I understand, Mark’s the kind of man who likes to solve conflicts by becoming even more hardened,” he said.
The zoning amendment application that was submitted on behalf of Hall Nov. 14 to the county planning and zoning department describes in some detail the “motor sports park” Hall would like to build on the property.
It requests rezoning of a section of the property from agriculture/forest to commercial development district.
The property is divided into three sections and the one in the center would be where the track, bleachers, concessions and VIP camping would be located.
An existing house and deck on the property -- which some locals call the mansion -- could be used as a private club or lodge. Two other sections of the property would not require rezoning, according to the application.
One of those areas, the easternmost parcel along Straits Highway which is already zoned commercial, might contain parking lots, buildings, or garages. That’s where the main entrance to the park would be located.
The other section, the westernmost section which lies along Chippewa Beach Road, might become campgrounds and parking for travel trailers.
The application raises many questions for opponents, however. In particular, the proposal says “the only possible negatives” are noise and traffic.
Some opponents take issue with the contention that those would be “so slight and so infrequent that they would be overshadowed by the benefits to local businesses.”
APPLICATION APPEARED THIN
Trisha Woollcott said she and others who have been monitoring Hall’s plans were shocked by how rudimentary his rezoning application appeared -- it consists of nine pages, much of it is boilerplate, and they say it is short on details.
They believe traffic, noise and environmental studies should be required before rezoning approval is considered -- something that appears may not happen.
Woollcott worries that questions about the project will be put off by the planning commission until Hall applies for a special use permit, and when that happens Hall will be able to win approval of a special use permit because the conditional zoning request has already been approved.
“I think what their strategy is to say, ‘Oh, rezoning isn’t so important because all the details will be in the special use permit,’ Woollcott said. “I think it makes it a lot easier for Mr. Hall.”
Hall said he is prepared to withdraw his proposal if it meets too much resistance from locals, a suggestion which must cause supporters to shudder.
That’s exactly what some people who are opposed to the track hope to offer.
The Friends group has hired attorneys -- the Olson, Bzdok & Howard of Traverse City -- and they have launched a fundraising drive to put up a fight.
The group wants to raise money to hire their own experts on noise and traffic and environmental impacts, and they may want to take the fight from the planning commission to the circuit court if things don’t go their way.